Sunday, May 06, 2012

Spanish white

The Recipe
Spanish White
Take four Ounces of the Oil of Ben, an ounce of Virgin Wax, and two drams and a half of Magistery of Bismuth. The Oil of Ben is preferable to the Oil of sweet Almonds, and also that of the four Cold Seeds, because it does not over-heat so much as those Oils, and keeps a long time before it changes.

The Magistery of Bismuth is to be preferr'd to that of Tin or Lead, because it is a great deal whiter. This Cosmetic is commonly called Spanish White. If it be dissolv'd in Flower-de-Luce Water, it will whiten the face.
(Abdeker; or the Art of Preserving Beauty, p. 63)

One of the fun things with going through these old recipes and trying to find out what it is that actually goes in them, is that I learn a lot. Many things aren't as odd as they seem when you get down to it and most of them are actually used today, both for health and in cosmetics. In fact, apart from some harmful pigments, the overwhelming majority of the ingredients do more good than harm. I'm also getting a sense that the various white and red pigments differ more than I thought. I started out, when I first started to become interested in the subject, with the belief that white pigment meant lead and that you applied it by rubbing your face with pomade and then rub the pigment in. That is evidently not the case and I love that! So let's break down the ingredients in this recipe.

Oil of Ben or Ben oil comes from the pressed seeds from a tree, the Moringa oliefera. Has been used as a perfume oil for thousands of years as it easily takes up scent and because it keep very well, as the recipes above notes. Safe.

Virgin Wax Bees wax

Bismuth Pearlecent white pigment. I have always blithely assumed that bismuth and lead white are the same. However, this recipe makes a distinct difference between them and reading up I find that it is a metal on it's own, though in the 18th century it was often confused with lead and tin. It is not at all as poisonous as lead, for example Bismuth subsalicylate is used even today in some medications and Bismuth oxychloride is used in cosmetics, especially mineral makeup. Though it is considered safe, many people have allergic reactions to Bismuth in makeup (I for one) and I wouldn't use it. Titanium oxide can be purchased mixed with mica for a pearlecent effect and that is what I would substitute it with. Magistery in the recipe means that the pigment is in a fine powder.

Flower-de-Luce Water This one is a bit tricky. It seems to point at the flower Iris, but that flower is poisonous and irritates the skin. But, the Yellow Iris, or Yellow Flag, is often confused with Sweet Flag or Calamus. sweet flag has been used in perfume and food and applied on skin it works as an astringent and antiseptic. It is also used in several other beauty recipes from the 18th century. It seems quite likely that Flower-de-Luce Water is really made of Sweet Flag, not Iris. It should be possible to find essence of Sweet flag, but you can also find the dried root and make your own.

My thoughts
This recipe seems doable and, even with bismuth, quite harmless. I'd substitute it with Titanium oxide though, even so. I'm going to investigate the possibility of making Flower-de-Luce Water, otherwise I think I can fall back on Rose Water as it was used a lot in the 18th century. It must become a quite fat makeup and I wonder how much it smeared. Being made with oil and wax I doubt that it could really be dissolved in water, however it was scented. I really need to try this recipe out and see how it behaves in reality!


  1. I'd love to be your Guinea pig!

  2. Be careful what you wish for, madame Berg... :)

  3. If memory serves me right, Oil of Four Cold Seeds was made from pumpkin, squash, cucumber and melon seeds...

    1. Thank you for teh information. I have been wondering, but so far not enough to actually research it. :)


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